At eight o’clock in the afternoon on July 23 and one year less one day later than planned, the Tokyo National Stadium became the epicenter of what is an Olympic party in times of pandemic. Contained and sober, neat and detailed, the opening ceremony gave an idea of the enormous effort invested by the organizers of the IOC and Japan to spread a message of unity and faith in the future. And at the same time it showed the inescapable limitations in such a difficult time. Pomp and circumstance finished off with the most emotional moments, those of the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by tennis player Naomi Osaka on a promontory that represented Mount Fuji.
The beauty and plasticity of the moment, to the sounds of Ravel’s Bolero, was preceded by the emotion of the last relays. The Olympic flame emerged from the bowels of the stadium and the torch was carried by former fighter Saori Yoshida and former judoka Tadahiro Nomura, who passed it on to various legends of Japanese and Paralympic sports. And in the penultimate relay, it was taken by children who lived in the Fukushima area devastated by the earthquakes in 2013.
The 68,000 empty seats in the stadium only underlined the enormous importance of the public. Sport and spectacle pale without the shouting, the silences, the spontaneous expression of the spectator’s state of mind. The most expensive Games -13,430 million euros-, those that have taken the longest to develop and about which he has planned and are planning the most uncertainties, are already underway after a quiet, intimate and empathetic ceremony. A respite for the Japanese population, whose reaction will be indecipherable. What the cold statistics of the television audience say. Its preeminence reaches its maximum expression in this context.
Half of the 11,274 athletes who will compete donned their colorful and varied outfits to parade and send a message of resilience, Olympic passion and values such as solidarity and peace, in the words of IOC President Thomas Bach. “Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different, but let us cherish this moment. We are all here together, ”he said in his speech. Nor was the center of the stadium crowded as it used to on these occasions. Athletes do not lose their smile or enthusiasm. They waved little flags, handkerchiefs as is de rigueur. And they greeted a stand where there were barely 900 invited personalities and as many journalists, and of course, the television cameras.
The Spanish representation, also reduced, far from the 321 athletes with whom it will compete in Tokyo, appeared after Saúl Craviotto and Mireia Belmonte, for the first time two standard bearers according to the new model that the IOC allows from now on. NBA player Rui Hachimura and fighter Yui Susaki were the standard bearers for the Japanese delegation, the last to enter the center of the stadium to close the two-hour parade that began with Greece and the Refugee Team.
The ceremony began with videos broadcast by the two screens of the stadium with the images of various athletes competing. They staged the countdown since Tokyo was designated the host of the Games in 2013, when it surpassed, among others, the candidacy of Madrid. The first fireworks were launched from the stadium deck. The choreographies with the dancers began, counted in comparison with the previous editions of the Games, and discreetly keeping the distance between them. The emperor of Japan Naruhito and Thomas Bach made their entrance, the flag of Japan was raised, and Misia, the famous singer, sang the hymn Kimi ga yo (The kingdom of his imperial majesty). A few minutes of recollection were given in memory of the deceased, in particular those who lost their lives due to the covid. Helpers and dancers, like carpenters, joined five giant rings, carved in wood of pines and fir trees planted to commemorate the 1964 Games, also held in Tokyo, illuminated by paper lanterns and transported to the center of the stadium where they finished taking the shape of the olympic rings.
After the parade and the Olympic oath of the judges, athletes and coaches, a tribute video was offered starring the former Hungarian-Israeli gymnast Agnes Keleti, the 100-year-old oldest person with an Olympic medal. It was followed by one of the most shocking moments of the night. The children built the logo of Tokyo with 1,824 drones, which flew over the stadium to become a globe.
And from the sky, back to the stage. Imagine there is no paradise. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above, only heaven. Imagine all the people… ”, that’s how it starts Imagine, the famous song of John Lennon. It was performed by Alejandro Sanz, John Legend, Keith Urba, and Angelique Kidjo. The Madrid singer announced his performance shortly before the start of the ceremony: “You can daydream and imagine aloud. Today honor teleports me to another world. I am going to be part of the opening ceremony of the Games. My voice will be everyone’s. I tremble with happiness and gratitude ”.
The ceremony was finally held without anything betraying her long and difficult labor, with a string of resignations from her managers. In December, Hiroshi Sasaki took over as creative director of the ceremony from Mansai Nomura, a popular Japanese actor. In February, the president of the organizing committee of the Games Yoshiro Mori resigned after the controversy caused by complaining that women have the “annoying habit” of talking too much in meetings. Sasaki resigned in March after the repercussion of a proposal in which he proposed that the Japanese actress Naomi Watanabe disguise herself as a pig and descend from the sky and referred to her as Olympig. And just one day before the opening ceremony, the chair of the Organizing Committee, Seiko Hashimoto, announced the dismissal of the director of the same, Kentaro Kobayashi, due to a joke about the Holocaust in a program in 1998. The ceremony was held, would like more or less, but the Tokyo Games, the most uncertain and strange in history, are already underway and now the main challenge, more than ever, is that they can be completed as planned with the closing ceremony on August 8 . “The pandemic forced us to separate ourselves, to keep our distance. Stay away even from our loved ones, “said Bach in his speech to the athletes who marched, sitting on the ground in the center of the stadium. “This separation made this tunnel very dark. But today, anywhere in the world, we are united to share this moment together. The Olympic flame makes this light shine brighter for everyone. Dear athletes, the Olympic community is with you. Millions of people will be glued to their screens ”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.